Travelin’ with Melanin: A Young, Black Travel Story (Briona, 22) – MOTM
Welcome to the Millennials on the Move series!
This initiative consists of candid interviews of, in often cases, extremely young millennials and their inspiring stories of how they navigate travel at their age despite the challenges.
I’m excited to talk to Briona now, about her experiences as a millennial traveler of color!
Hey sis! Thanks for participating in this series, I’m so excited for this dialogue! To start, please introduce yourself.
Hi there! I’m Briona, a 22-year-old travel and food blogger from Baltimore, Maryland, USA.
Right now I’m home finishing up the last month of my Bachelor’s degree in communication. I am black (being of African descent though I am not 100% where from) and a sprinkle Filipina.
So, to get a better idea of who you are, can you tell me when you decide to do your first trip? What were your motivations to travel, and at that point did you have any hesitations being a woman of color?
My first trip happened in January 2016. For the first time ever, I left the states and traveled to study in London!
I had never traveled alone or internationally up until that point.
At the time, I was in my third year of college and experiencing some depression. I wasn’t happy with the university that I chose to attend, but felt that it was way too late to transfer to another school.
So, I decided to study abroad instead. I chose London for my studies because of its diversity, which was one of my hesitations of traveling for the first time as a woman of color.
There were a lot of other options that I could’ve chosen for my course like Germany or China, but London felt like my safest option. I knew that I would meet other people of color and that my presence wouldn’t be a shock to people as it might’ve been if I’d chosen another country to study in. I guess you can say I was playing it safe.
Before my time in London, I didn’t really have much motivation to travel. I guess I just never saw anyone like me traveling.
None of my close friends or family have ever really been world travelers—we often took family vacations within the states, but that was as far as my travel experiences has gone.
Suddenly when I arrived in London, I was hit with a major case of wanderlust! I realized how easy it was to travel to and hop from country to country in Europe, so I decided to spend my spring break exploring Europe. My break was about three weeks long, so I headed to Italy, Greece, Prague and the Netherlands.
What are the hardest things about traveling as a woman of color? What things do you have to deal with as a woman of color that others might not have to?
Some of the hardest things about traveling as a woman of color is just always having to be conscious that you’re different and that people may perceive you in a negative way. Sometimes I find myself trying to speak quietly in public places while traveling as to not stand out anymore than I already possibly could with brown skin, an afro, and an American accent.
Traveling as a women of color, I always have to watch my back. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing because we should all aim to protect ourselves while traveling, but I feel that I have to be especially careful.
I research places before I go to try to get a feel for how they treat people of color, however there’s nothing like experiencing it for yourself.
There are often micro-aggressions from other travelers and people of the countries that I am visiting. Many of them haven’t been around or met a black person before so they don’t know how to react.
I have to deal with situations like that with poise and remind myself that people are inherently good and most do not mean any harm. I also have to be a realist about it and accept the fact that some people will hate me before I’ve even opened my mouth and those are the people who I have to encounter and deal with while traveling.
For example, I have to be careful dressing a certain way in some European countries because I could easily be mistaken for a prostitute. True story.
While in Italy my friends and I were walking the streets of Florence and my friends had a wardrobe malfunction, so she tied my sweatshirt around her waist. We were walking past a man who must’ve spotted the hole between her pants and sweater that exposed her upper leg, he asked ‘How Much?’…
Black women are sometimes seen as sexually promiscuous because we’re often portrayed in the media as such. A situation that is laughable to us now, could have very easily turned dangerous.
Can you describe a travel experience you’ve had where you thought, “Wow, how is this happening because of your skin color, hair texture, etc?”
What are some of the most ridiculous things you’ve had said to you, or happen to you?
I was in Ireland for New Year’s Eve this year and had a random man on the street reach out to touch my hair. I couldn’t believe it was happening because most times people will just comment on my hair as I’m passing them. But this man had the audacity to invade my personal space as if I or my hair were his to fondle!
I understand curiosity, but I would much rather someone who’s genuinely curious about my hair, my skin or anything else have a conversation with me. If you adore my fro, come up to me and tell me that instead of staring like I don’t belong.
One of my hostel mates, petted my precious fro after I spent time perfecting each curl. She smiled in amazement and told everyone how soft it was… Meanwhile, her friend told her to stop and explained to her that she can’t do that.
In a situation like that, it happened so fast that I didn’t have time to react, I simply removed myself from the situation.
It’s very bizarre to me that anyone would think it’s ever okay to touch someone who you don’t know in such a personal way. It’s annoying and makes black people feel weird. A compliment would feel much better because I won’t ever appreciate being someone’s test subject for their ignorance or their need to make me feel like a zoo animal.
It’s just not okay.I understand curiosity, but I would prefer someone to ask about my hair rather than grab it... Click To Tweet
Girl, you are preaching to the choir! I’ve been through that, and it is so frustrating and violating. Taking examples like that into account, are their any countries you’ve been to in particular that are “color” friendly?
Fortunately all of the countries that I’ve visited so far have been decently friendly. I haven’t had any experiences that would deter me from ever visiting them again. I traveled alone to Sperlonga, Italy and was surprised as to how nice I was treated in such a small town!
Italy has been one of the most friendly places that I’ve traveled both alone and with a group of other women of color.
Of course, the United Kingdom, London especially is a lot like being home in the states and I never experienced any outright racism while living there. It was very comfortable. I also can say the same about Portugal—the locals treated us well and were also willing to help with directions or where to get the best pastel de nata.
Could you describe the type of responses you get about your travels, either on your blog or by your family and friends? How positive or negative is it?
Personally, all of the responses to my travels have been positive.
My friends and family are extremely supportive and can often be found cheering me on from the sidelines. None of them travel as much as I do, but it’s part of my mission to show them that they can do it too. While they’re sometimes worried about where I am going and my safety, but they’ve never once discouraged me from traveling.
My friends are an awesome support group and encourage me as well. They often tell me that they’re inspired but what I am doing and ask how they can travel more often too.
As for social media, I am very active within the black travel movement online—particularly Instagram.
In the black community, sometimes it is looked down upon when we do things outside of the confinements that society has set for us. There’s a stigma in our community that traveling and other adventurous things are for white people.
I personally feel like I have to be the example for my friends and family so that they can travel too. It’s not far-fetched or ridiculously expensive like we’ve been told our whole lives.
I want to keep traveling so that I can help change the perception for my friends and family who think traveling isn’t accessible to them.
I am in many groups and communities that focus on redefining the black experience through travel. I’ve had strangers comment on my posts telling me that they’ve been looking for content like mine for years and thanking me for sharing my stories. That’s what keeps me traveling.
Love it! Are there any Facebook groups, websites, bloggers, other resources that you recommend to other people of color that want to travel?
I recommend checking out Damon & Jo!
Jo is the Afro-Brazilian co-host of the traveling YouTubers, and she often talks about her experiences as a women of color while traveling. Also joining ‘The Black Travel Movement’ Facebook group is helpful to information and travel tips.
The best resource is Instagram though.
There are so many black travel bloggers who are pushing boundaries like @glographics, @asiyami_gold, @simplycyn.
I would highly recommend following black travel communities like BlackTravelJourney (disclaimer: I am the social media manager for BTJ), TravelNoire and MyTravelCrush for black travel content.
It can help you visualize yourself traveling when you see other people like you doing it.By simply traveling with melanin you are educating the world that dark skin isn’t of lesser value. Click To Tweet
What an amazing interview! As a fellow traveler of color, I obviously resonated with a lot of what you said and hope other millennials our age do too. So, any final words you want to add?
I would tell other black 20-somethings to just get out there and do it.
Set your reservations aside and forget what people are saying you shouldn’t or can’t do. Seeing the world has allowed me to know myself in ways that I wouldn’t have realized otherwise.
I am truly a better person because of the people I’ve met and experiences that I’ve had while traveling.
You will always run into people who will perceive you negatively because of the color of your skin and the texture of your hair, but all you can do it be who you are.
Through simply traveling with the melanin you are giving and being a positive person, you are educating the world that dark skin isn’t of lesser value.
By getting out into the world and experiencing life you are already defying the odds set against you!
I’ll never stop traveling because I want to show the world and other people of color that black women travel too. I want to contribute to reality that is people of color traveling.
I truly think that travel makes us more accepting, understanding and open minded people and that’s what this world needs to become a better place!
What is the purpose of this series?
This initiative is driven by my desire to inspire other people in my age range and show them that travel for us is not only invaluable but very possible—sometimes you just need to see someone else jump before you do!
If you’re interested in being featured and you’re age 18-26, subscribe in the form below or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.